Principles of Conservation Burial
As an alternative to conventional burial and cremation, conservation burial conserves the beauty and open space of our rural lands through a return to natural burial methods. It bears no resemblance to a conventional cemetery site; instead, it is a sanctuary of natural beauty.
- Permanent conservation of the land with a certified Land Trust
- Biological and environmental restoration of the land and habitat
- Prohibition of the introduction of any destructive or hazardous materials into the habitat
- Allows for the natural and rapid decomposition of the body and recycling directly back to the soil
- Low costs. Because of the simplicity of the natural burial process and minimal maintenance of the grounds, the costs of natural burial are substantially lower than conventional burial
- The grounds of a conservation site remain forever natural and wild, with trails and paths connecting the burial grounds, open to the families and friends of the loved ones buried there. It is a place of simple, natural beauty and tranquility, unmarred by raised markers, headstones or artificial monuments
- The forever-protected land is the monument to the lives of the buried.
What Conservation Burial Looks Like
- Burials can take place among the trees in a forest, among the grasses in a meadow or among the plants in a hay field; sometimes you can choose your own burial site.
- Gravesites are marked with GPS to allow for perpetual identification of the grave area. Paths and lanes connect fields and burial sites.
- With a conservation burial, the deceased is buried in a simple wooden or woven casket or cloth shroud.
- The gravesite may be marked by a low native stone, engraved or not.
- After burial, the area is allowed to settle, is reseeded with native plants, and over time transformed back into the surrounding ecosystem with minimal to no future maintenance needs.
- Paths and wooded lanes connect fields and burial sites.
- Cremated remains can sometimes be scattered in certain areas of the preserve or buried in a biodegradable urn in a smaller purchased site
What is the difference between natural and conventional burial?
- A conservation burial, as distinguished from a conventional burial in a conventional graveyard, has minimal impact on the surrounding land as there are no metal or elaborate caskets, no chemicals from embalming of the body, no raised headstones or markers; just trees, grass, flowers and air.
- A conservation burial allows the body to decompose quickly and naturally and recycle directly back into the soil, nurturing the soil instead of harming it.
- The expenses associated with a conventional burial – embalming, sealed caskets, burial vaults, high maintenance fees – are not required by law, only by the specific cemeteries, thus not an issue with conservation burial.
- Conventional cemeteries use a great deal of water for irrigation, and are heavy users of fertilizers and chemicals. Conservation burial preserves, however, focus on the protection and enhancement of the soil and water quality of the entire ecosystem.
- The main threats to our water quality come from intensive conventional agriculture and urbanization, with the associated water use, erosion, chemical and petroleum product run off and animal waste. Bodies are not buried within 100 feet of the water table and, as permitted by law, are buried within the active biological zone of the soil to enhance decomposition.
- To protect the natural habitat, the density of burial is much less than conventional burial – 50 to 100 bodies per acre versus 1000+ per acre in conventional cemeteries.
Costs of Conventional Burials
Each Year, the U.S.’s 22,500 cemeteries bury approximately:
- 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
- 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods (much tropical; caskets)
- 90,272 tons of steel (caskets)
- 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
- 14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
- 2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
- On average, a conventional cemetery buries 1,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 97.5 tons of steel, 2,028 tons of concrete, and 56,250 board feet of high quality tropical hardwood in just one acre of land
- Unknown tons of fertilizers, pesticides, and water – not to mention emissions like CO2, nitrates, ozone, soot and more is used to keep cemeteries looking the way they do
Ecological Costs of Cremations
- Each cremation releases between .8 and 5.9 grams of mercury as bodies are burned. This amounts to between 1,000 and 7,800 pounds of mercury released each year in the U.S. 75% goes into the air and the rest settles into the ground and water.
- You could drive about 4,800 miles on the energy equivalent of the energy used to cremate someone – and to the moon and back 85 times from all cremations in one year in the U.S.
- Cremation removes the body from the cycle of nature, keeping it from nourishing new life.
Green Burial Around the World and the US
There are over a hundred burial sites in the US that use natural burial methods and even more around the world. The Green Burial Council is the standard-setting body for the U.S. This movement toward lower environmental impact and land conservation for burial originated in Europe and has been embraced here in the U.S.
Note: You will see several terms used seemingly interchangeably to describe these burial sites: “green”, “conservation”, “natural”. The different wording may reflect the different focus of each site, but all share the essential principles described above. A conservation burial site goes above and beyond by preserving the land in perpetuity with a certified land trust.
Resh Mill Preserve is the first such initiative in Maryland. Below are links to some of the existing conservation burial sites whose vision we share.
Greensprings Natural Burial 100 acre natural cemetery preserve near Ithaca, NY
Penn Forest Cemetery A recently opened 32 acre urban forest in Pittsburgh, PA.
Foxfield Preserve Foxfield Preserve is a nonprofit cemetery in Ohio operated by The Wilderness Center, a nonprofit nature center and land conservancy.
Ramsey Creek Preserve The first conservation burial ground in the US, located on 33 acres in South Carolina.